The rise of leadership networks

The rise of leadership networks

The rise of leadership networks to deal with the uber-mind

We actually have an idea where we are going from here. Artificial Intelligence is taking over human tasks and increasing the interconnectedness of objects around the world, weaving everything into one bionic information processing entity. We are externalizing our intelligence to an uber-mind of which we are small parts. This is re-shaping the business landscape like a tsunami.
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What we actually don’t know is what kind of part our company, our function and we ourselves will have in this future. Figuring out what to do next in order to secure our companies remain on the playing field is the question plaguing CEO’s as the wave rises. Business as usual does not apply anymore. Centralized leadership is inefficient, centralized strategizing is blind, centralized decision making is slow. The omniscient CEO is doomed.

Leadership will become a property of social networks specifically designed to lead groups and organizations in creating new businesses. Processes currently isolated in separate units will be progressively embedded in these leadership networks to pull the company towards its future. They will create learning loops across functional, geographical, hierarchical boundaries, and erase the difference between internal and external stakeholders.

Companies will have to replicate the systemic functioning of the uber-mind in order to succeed. This requires understanding how leadership networks are created and influenced in order to generate possibilities through the adequate distribution of power, information, support and resources across the organization.

By binding together the maximum diversity of competencies, focusing on a common mission, a leadership network is able to leverage the whole organization to reshape itself and adapt faster to an ever changing environment. That makes the difference to remain relevant as most things go obsolete. Leadership networks engender collective intelligence to deal with the uber-mind. That’s the way to go. Trust the process.

Diet of the Leaders

Diet of the Leaders

Diet of the Leaders

A medical friend who specializes in eating disorders, once commented that most people who go to his clinic need to watch their weight. A sign of a time of unregulated abundance, it seems we tend to put on weight by eating unhealthy food and in excess quantities.
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Not only can his patients identify the problem but often they have the solution for it. In general, they mean a miracle program that if followed allows weight loss with very little effort and in record time.

These poor souls turn up at the doctor’s clinic asking him to validate their choice of diet and to help them follow it. They ask things like, ‘Dr., what do you think of a high protein low carb diet?’ Or ‘Dr., what do you think of me going on a pineapple and green tea diet which is said to help you lose weight?’ Or ‘Dr., I’m excited about Palaeolithic nutrition, what do you reckon?’ Or “Dr., if I become a vegetarian, will I lose weight? ‘

My friend usually listens carefully till the end to the detailed description of the program and then gives an encouraging response: ‘It sounds like a good program. As long as you burn more calories than you consume and you do exercise, that diet will always work. Let’s plan your calorie intake, and the amount of exercise you need to do, shall we?’ No matter what solution they put forward, his response is always the same.

We all like sophisticated programs with appealing theories. Even more so if they come with a good marketing campaign and illustrated leaflets. If there is a book by an international author who is a regular presence on television studios, then it is infallible.

And we tend to forget what is fundamental. We look at simple things with a sort of intellectual arrogant disdain. ‘If it were that simple, anyone could do it.’ The fact is that anyone who really wanted to do it, would be able to. Only those who do not want to do it hide behind conceptual models that withhold the reality of what has to be done.
In my consulting work of developing leaders and management teams I am often faced with a huge thirst for intellectual knowledge, which I consider to be absolutely healthy.

In the executive coaching training courses and sessions that I run it is common for managers to ask me things like: ‘Ricardo, what do you think of the twelve roles model / four styles / six core / seven pillars / ten behaviours / eight habits / five attitudes / three eyes and a navel of leadership? ‘

This is when I remember my friend – the doctor – and cannot resist stealing his line: ‘It is a good model of leadership. If you can increase your team’s engagement, develop your employees’ skills, align their attitudes with the desired company culture and manage performance so as to achieve your objectives, it will always work.’

We can attend conferences and read books with the latest theory about leadership. But only a leader can help his team to produce results. And this depends on holding people accountable for strategic actions, managing their performance appropriately, helping them to develop the skills needed for success, and aligning their attitudes with a competitive corporate culture.

It may seem simple, and for that reason not that appealing, but it is indispensable. With a little determination and humility it can be put into practice and help us produce results. But this is only for those who really want to do it. For the others, there are nice models out there.

* Management Consultant, founder of Plan B Consulting, partner of TMI Portugal, author of the book The Art of Becoming Useless (

(originally published in Executive Digest, April 2009)
By Ricardo Vargas

Faster. Stop controlling.

Faster. Stop controlling.

Faster. Stop controlling.

True speed makes things indistinct. It blurs vision and judgment. Time shrinks. Error margin increases. As we enter a world blurred by speed, decisions need to be made faster with less information. People look at you for answers to problems you never heard of. Leadership stress appears when you stretch the limits.
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What can you do to go faster with your team? Stop controlling them. Control slows you down. As Mario Andretti said: “If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.” You need to renounce control in order to speed up. But how to do it within acceptable risk parameters?
The short answer you have been given is: “Trust your people and they will do it. Just make sure they are competent.” Our research and experience in leadership development over two decades has shown that replacing control with trust per se is not enough to guarantee sustainable top performance and quality levels. We need to replace control with trust in the ability of people to control themselves. It seems a small difference, but it’s not.
You might have competent people that lack the drive and ability to control themselves. To push themselves further and be better. The skills, processes and attitudes required to do something or to steer one’s performance in doing it are different. If you trust people who are only competent in ‘doing’ and not in ‘steering’ their performance, you are in for a surprise.
The challenge is to set up a system that develops your people to the point where you fully trust their ability to do both. It’s not about your control over people and circumstances. It’s about their control over their performance under the circumstances. Even when it’s not world class, if they have the tools and drive, they will improve it. Your job as leader is to develop the people who can accelerate the business and get out of the way. Let them go faster. Stop controlling.

Ricardo Vargas
Consulting House CEO

The empty company

The empty company

The empty company

One possible definition of a company is “an organized set of means to engage in a commercial activity, which produces and sells goods and/or services, in order to respond to the changing market needs.’ In fact, what a company is varies from sector to sector and changes over time.
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What is a company in the Era of Knowledge or in a knowledge-based business sector? If on a Friday there was a fire in your office, destroying the equipment and facilities, what percentage of your business could you count on the following Monday?

In a sector little based on knowledge, you might continue doing business with about four or five percent. The commercial department would probably be able to contact clients to explain what had happened and get their sympathy and understanding. But there would be no product to deliver, no raw material to consume and no machinery to transform it. Without a good insurance policy, few companies would be likely to survive such an ordeal.

In a highly knowledge-driven sector, you would probably be able to continue with 95% of your business. So long as the people who provide the services were not injured in the fire, they would be able to deliver what had been sold on the following Monday.

This is the nature of knowledge-based businesses. They are difficult and time-consuming to develop, but they are more flexible in their implementation and more resilient to natural disasters because they exist mainly in the minds of the workers. Fire is an extreme example, but it would not even have been necessary.

In the age of knowledge, when the workers leave the company at the end of the day, they take with them the bulk of the company’s capital: the know-how; tacit and explicit knowledge; business relationships established with clients over the years; history of problem solving; knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of each of the peers they interact with and how to make the internal relationships work; the behaviour which best promotes the company culture; all unregistered information; technical skills; the ability to work with both equipment and technology; the outcome of training courses and of all investment made in knowledge; the learning acquired from the mistakes made over the years, which were never recorded because they had been corrected; hundreds of different ways of interpreting the available information, the blending of many different points of view; the friendly service we provide our customers; the ambition, the professionalism, the accuracy, the quality and all the attitudes that make us good at what we do; the friendly relationships built; the welcome and social support that sometimes cannot be found anywhere else; the inspiring stories that encourage teams to proceed despite adversity; examples of what cannot be done but looks bad to admit it bluntly; the different groups and their sensitivities that must be respected for the Whole to work in a harmonious way; the accumulated wisdom of the best way to deal with difficult people in general and each boss in particular; respect and credibility gained in the marketplace; the creative response to competitors’ subterfuge; pride felt in being a part of the company and defending the brand; etc.

At the end of the day, when the workers leave, the company is empty. There is only a place left where anything can happen as long as the people who work there return the following day.

(originally published in Executive Digest, August 2010)
By Ricardo Vargas

Core leadership competence

Core leadership competence

Core leadership competence

What is the most important competence for a leader to have?
Try googling ‘Leadership Competences’ and you will get about three million entries. On analyzing those entries, three things come to light: an indigestible list, a lot of ignorance, and an absence.
Core Leadership Skill
Let’s start with the first one. On reading the list of must have competences, the leader is left under the impression that a (s)he has to know it all. From the most common abilities, such as being able to communicate effectively, develop others, manage performances and make decisions to the most extraordinary ones, like how to promote innovation, guide change and transform the organization. From the most strategic aspects to the most operational ones. From day-to-day affairs to long-term vision. It seems everything is possible as long as there is a leader in a company. No one else is needed as the leader does it all.

However, the problem lies in the fact that this complete list of competences is indigestible in a process of leader development. Hence the need to understand the company business’ core competences and focus our investment in the ones that contribute directly to the business.

The second thing that we come across is a lot of ignorance in the competences models proposed by consulting firms and universities, the so said specialists. Dimensions of certain concepts such as honesty and integrity, a stable personal life, result achievement, customer orientation, along with hundreds of other items, are not competences.

They may be important aspects for a leader, namely attitudes, values, practical consequences of the implementation of competence, attitudes, personality traits or communication styles. But they are not competences, so they do not fit into a list of competences.

A competence is the combination of knowledge, skill and behaviour shown in a particular situation. Only when these three dimensions are present can we say that a person is competent in a given area.

A competence can be trained. We can provide knowledge through training or education, by training motor or cognitive skills, and encouraging behaviour in real life situations through ‘coaching’, ‘mentoring’ or other tools. Attitude, personality traits and the rest cannot be trained. So they are not competences.

Finally, the great absence of ‘online’ research: The core competence in leader development. The skill without which none of the others can be fully assimilated and implemented. Which one is it? Managing the impact of our behaviour in others.

If I do not understand the complexity of social situations, the management of expectations in interpersonal relationships, the dynamics generated within groups, their impact on individual behaviour or how the behaviour of a leader affects these variables, I lack the essential knowledge to understand the impact of my own behaviour on others. If I do not possess the skills I need to operate effectively in a wide range of social situations, which include the ability to act based on different roles according to circumstances, I will not achieve the necessary social performance to maximize the impact of my behaviour on others.

If I do not apply both those dimensions in real situations to my job,
I will not be able to assimilate any of the indispensable skills of a leader. Because a leader’s job is 100% based on the ability to manage the impact of one’s behaviour on others.

Obvious, right? So much so that we tend to forget about it. Until you need it.

(originally published in Human, May 2015)
by Ricardo Vargas

Leadership networks: the reality ahead

Leadership networks: the reality ahead

Leadership networks: the reality ahead

Science is slow. It took us 500 years to turn Da Vinci’s submarine idea into reality, a century to develop the first flying taxi or the video-call imagined in 1900, and it will still take us several millennia to implement a Dyson sphere. Granted, some areas of technology move at an ever faster pace, overtaking their fiction. This always happened. We tweaked the genetics of animals and plants long before science knew about genes. But in most cases, fiction runs ahead.
Leadership Networks The Reality Ahead
Science is slow because it is built by a global network of researchers without any form of leadership. They share a process, several methodologies and agreed tools to design a better understanding of how reality comes about. They might even share common themes, but fundamental science does not try to reach an end goal.

Technology evolves faster than fundamental science because we design it on purpose, and build it on applied science. It does have goals, deadlines, and we can set up specific organizations to achieve them.

The same design principles can be used to reshape our businesses. We can use independent networks of stakeholder teams and connect them with purpose(s). We can animate them with emergent leadership processes to align local actions with global goals. And we can support the underlying development process with learning tools and platforms that speed up the process, as all progress is knowledge based.

Leadership networks are a form of organization that decentralizes everything but the purpose we want to achieve. Be it replacing your top product, developing new markets or reshaping the organization, we can design leadership networks to outpace any centralized structure in innovation processes. By enabling leadership networks to emerge and take the job, companies tap into the swarm intelligence of their stakeholders in a loose structured way that flexibly adapts to the complexity of its context. Leadership networks are still in their infancy, but so are all our endeavors when compared with their fiction.